WHO renames novel coronavirus Covid-19, calls laboratories first line of defense

Feb. 12, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the group has come up with an official name, Covid-19, for the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

"We now have a name for the disease and it's Covid-19," Dr. Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva at the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness forum on Feb. 11, and he called for aggressive measures worldwide to fight Covid-19. He went on to say that Co stands for Corona, Vi stands for virus, D stands for disease and 19 – stands for the year it was discovered.

The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses has designated that the virus is part of SARS-CoV-2 (Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus) species and designates it as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus.

"We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease," the WHO chief said. "Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks." 

Timely detection of a contagious pathogen is vital to controlling its spread. In response to the emergency of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), WHO is working closely with a network of designated laboratories in the WHO European Region and other WHO regions to ensure that every country has the capacity and resources required to quickly test, report and respond to any suspected cases of the disease. In particular, WHO/Europe is facilitating shipment of testing kits, within a month of the virus first being isolated.

Working largely unseen, in the context of routine disease surveillance or in the event of acute disease outbreaks, laboratories are a vital link in the chain of activities required to keep populations safe from diseases. Recognizing this, WHO/Europe and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) moved quickly following identification of the virus to identify laboratory needs and capacities in the European Region.

WHO/Europe and partners established a roster of 6 international laboratories in the Region to act as regional referral laboratories to provide testing support to laboratories working at country level. These laboratories are located in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom. A network of nationally designated laboratories for testing of 2019-nCoV was also activated, primarily building on the existing laboratory network within the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS).

Thanks to China’s swift release of the full virus sequence, the first protocol for diagnostic testing of samples collected from potentially infected patients and their contacts became available in early January. This enabled 31 countries in the Region to rapidly establish testing capacities. WHO also commissioned the manufacturing of test kits for global distribution to the designated Covid-19 laboratories. WHO/Europe is facilitating a first round of shipment of 192 kits (containing 100 tests each) to 20 laboratories in the Region. Globally, WHO is making 250,000 tests available to 159 laboratories.

This rapid expansion of testing capacity is increasing preparedness in each country to reduce the risk of infection and spread of the virus.

WHO has the information. 

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.